How to Criticise Your Creative

Image by @Boetter

At some point in your career, you may well have to hire a copywriter, web designer or similarly “creative” professional. You’ll provide them with a brief, they’ll work day and night to come up with a draft, a proof or a concept, and then they’ll pass it back to you.

If you want stunning copy or a striking design, what happens next is critical. You’re going to cast your eye over the lovingly-crafted piece, and you’re going to give an opinion. If you do this right, you’re on the way to having a truly amazing piece of work created. If you do it wrong, you’ll be lucky to get what you really want.

It’s all about communication:

This is NOT Constructive Criticism

  • I don’t like it.
  • Redo it.
  • It’s no good.
  • Is that the best you can come up with?
  • Fail!

This isn’t constructive criticism. This is complaining, and it doesn’t help matters. It’s always frustrating (and not just for you) when a creative comes up with a draft that doesn’t match the idea you had in your head, but short, curt complaints don’t give your copywriter or designer anything to work with. It might seem obvious, but the more input and feedback you give, the closer to your concept the final piece will be.

This IS Constructive Criticism

  • Can we try a more sociable tone?
  • Would you try this again with a different colour scheme?
  • Can you break this up with a few more subheadings?
  • Will you write all the acronyms out in full?
  • I’ve never been a fan of drop shadows. Would you remove them?

By identifying the issues you have with the piece and suggesting how you’d like it corrected, you’re doing two things. Firstly, you’re not giving the impression that you’ve lost all faith in your creative. Second, you’re giving them a clearer picture of how that concept in your head could be realised.

As long as you remember to communicate instead of complain, you’ll get what you want – and you’ll have developed a great working relationship with your copywriter or designer. One that could serve you well for a long time to come.

3 Comments comments for "How to Criticise Your Creative"

  1. Allen says:

    I have lost count of the amount of times I have produced a radio ad for a client and they have replied with, “I don’t like it.”
    It makes me want to beat them around the face!

    Even worse though, is when they sign the script off, you produce it and then they say, “That’s now what I wanted.”


  2. ‘I don’t like it’ always needs to be challenged. Although a huge number of clients evaluate their creative that way, they really should be asking whether it’s going to help their business.

    ‘I’ve never been a fan of drop shadows’ is similar. Let’s say you’re mailing consumers aged 50+ about a commemorative plate. Ivory paper, scripty fonts and vignetted images are likely to do gangbusting business for you. And you can use them without having to like them – let’s be honest, Design Week probably aren’t watching your every move.

    Michael Dell once said something like ‘I don’t like to do the things I like to do. I like to do the things that help the company.’ OK, so his products suck. But the point stands. A good manager should be able to see past their own likes and dislikes and decide, objectively, what’s going to do the business.

    The problem is over-identification with the creative project, which many creatives actively encourage. You get the client to fall in love with your concept, or the idea of working with someone so creative, and they’re much less likely to criticise your work since they’re all wrapped up in it on a personal level. Rationality goes out the window. But at least you get paid.

    • Andrew says:

      That’s the issue from our side, isn’t it? We need to get paid, so we’ll do things that don’t help the client for the sake of an easy life. I don’t think there’s anyone that hasn’t done that at least once.

      It’s like you said the other week, we need to stop valuing creativity over efficiency. If that client’s in love with your creative concept, then you’re all focusing on the wrong thing.

      Great comment Tom, thanks.

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